Signals in Social Supernets



Social network sites (SNSs) provide a new way to organize and navigate an egocentric social network. Are they a fad, briefly popular but ultimately useless? Or are they the harbingers of a new and more powerful social world, where the ability to maintain an immense network—a social “supernet”—fundamentally changes the scale of human society? This article presents signaling theory as a conceptual framework with which to assess the transformative potential of SNSs and to guide their design to make them into more effective social tools. It shows how the costs associated with adding friends and evaluating profiles affect the reliability of users’ self-presentation; examines strategies such as information fashion and risk-taking; and shows how these costs and strategies affect how the publicly-displayed social network aids the establishment of trust, identity, and cooperation—the essential foundations for an expanded social world.